Tuesday, February 10, 2009

❄ A 2001-2009 Truth Commission?

In a lecture delivered on February 9th, 2009 Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Lahey (D-Vt.) characterized disagreement about confronting the possible illegality of actions undertaken by the Bush-Cheney administration of 2001-2009:

“As to the best course of action for bringing a reckoning for the actions of the past eight years, there has been heated disagreement.  There are some who resist any effort to investigate the misdeeds of the recent past.  Indeed, some Republican Senators tried to extract a devil’s bargain from the Attorney General nominee in exchange for their votes, a commitment that he would not prosecute for anything that happened on President Bush’s watch.  That is a pledge no prosecutor should give, and Eric Holder did not, but because he did not, it accounts for many of the partisan votes against him. [Text 1]

“There are others who say that, even if it takes all of the next eight years, divides this country, and distracts from the necessary priority of fixing the economy, we must prosecute Bush administration officials to lay down a marker.  Of course, the courts are already considering congressional subpoenas that have been issued and claims of privilege and legal immunities – and they will be for some time.” [Text 1]

The Question

Would ‘truth and reconciliation’, rather than absolution or prosecution, best serve the people of the United States?


As an alternative to the two positions Senator Lahey summarized, he suggests consideration of a middle way:

“One path to that goal would be a reconciliation process and truth commission.  We could develop and authorize a person or group of people universally recognized as fair minded, and without axes to grind.  Their straightforward mission would be to find the truth.” [Text 1]

He continues:

“People would be invited to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences, not for purposes of constructing criminal indictments, but to assemble the facts.  If needed, such a process could involve subpoena powers, and even the authority to obtain immunity from prosecutions in order to get to the whole truth.  Congress has already granted immunity, over my objection, to those who facilitated warrantless wiretaps and those who conducted cruel interrogations.  It would be far better to use that authority to learn the truth.” [Text 1]

The Political Design Problem

Would the people and future governance be best-served by a ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ or by a ‘truth commission’? Then, what should its charter be? Its powers? And its membership? For example, could this be—should it be?—a bipartisan commission like the 9.11 Commission? And who should staff the commission?

Note: Full Disclosure

On 30 July 2007 I posted to my ‘political’ blog a judgment about the US role in Iraq. In the course of that entry I made this comment about assessment of the Bush-Cheney period:

“We must acknowledge that there has been, and remains, an effort to undermine the Constitution, and document what was done so that firm lines can be drawn against future assaults. Later historians, with yet more access to memories and transactions, may alter this account, but we must begin with what we can. And there will be some specialists in politics who should ask, not to punish but to expose, how it was that the Republican majority in the House and Senate, and then as a minority, and many among the Democrats, failed to exercise their obligation to ‘protect and defend’ the Constitution. All of this should be done in the clear light of day.” [Text 2]


[1] Remarks of Senator Patrick Leahy, The 2009 Marver Bernstein Lecture, “Restoring Trust in the Justice System: The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Agenda In The 111th Congress”, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, United States Senate. Georgetown University, February 9, 2009. As Prepared.
[2] Bruce Larkin’s Blog. 2007.07.30 “Iraq” http://www.learnworld.com/blog/blog.html

[Political Design 2009.02.10. Post A19. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]


Anonymous Prof Betty in Maine said...

Bruce Larkin
What do you think about Sen. Lahey's proposal? Will it go anywhere?

Sun Mar 08, 02:42:00 PM PDT  

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